Metaverse Shopping 101, from Forever 21’s Roblox Store Creator

The meta-verse – a virtual world where people replicate their true identities or are free to live like someone else – is coming. For retailers, it can be a revenue center where virtual merchandise can help metaverse residents realize their vision for themselves.

But as Meta has shown in its most recent annual accounts, it is also associated with financial risk. Its metaverse division, Reality Labs, recorded billions of losses over the past two years.

Most potential Metaverse users, resellers, and marketers have many questions about how it all works. We asked Justin Hochberg, Founder and CEO of Virtual Brand Group, to explain how this new technology will work. His agency has built Forever 21 Shop City, a virtual retail setup in Roblox, which in itself is a social gaming environment – not technically Metaverse, but a prototype that will give retailers a taste of the things to come.

In Shop City, customers buy virtual clothes for their avatars and create their own Forever 21 stores. In the Roblox environment, customers receive coupons to buy the same physical item – for those who want to pair with their avatar Roblox in real life.

Describe the meta-verse for retailers and marketers who have not yet understood the concept.

Justin Hochberg: Let me describe it to you on a visceral level. The # 1 thing about “metaverse” is not whether it’s Roblox, Fortnite, Meta, Layer2, crypto or NFT.

Justin Hochberg, CEO, Virtual Brand GroupJustin Hochberg

Marc Andreessen invented the Mosaic browser 25 or 26 years ago. Then you started seeing URLs on billboards.

People thought, “What is this?” and they said, ‘Can you explain the internet? What is it ?”

I would say, “that’s what you want it to be.”

“Well, who does it belong to?”

“None.”

“What can you do about it?”

“Anything.”

None of these answers were helpful at all. Now insert the word 26 years later metavers and we are the same place. In three years, you will not wonder what the meta-verse is, just as you will not wonder what the Internet is. Internet, who cares? What interests you is Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, whatever. That’s what people understand. People do not understand it because they have not used it yet. It’s just that idea, and it’s not “Hey, can I get a book cheaper, faster?” It’s the internet.

Let’s go back a little. So what is a Roblox experience for CX executives who might be wondering if they should go in that direction.

Hochberg: Any type of brand – be it fashion, TV, movies – if you sell to consumers, you want to be where your consumers are. For many people, this means that you have some kind of store, whatever it looks like. You have some kind of e-commerce, you do some kind of social media, maybe you do a lot of other things – omnichannel – to meet your customers, no matter where they are. Metaverse is a very complicated thing, but all it is is another place where there are already many consumers. But it’s – and here’s the trick – better than your store, your e-comm and your social media. It is the most effective sales channel since the advent of selling things you will never find.

Why?

Hochberg: Let’s approach it in three ways: the first thing is that it’s a frictionless customer experience. Going to a store is a kind of flawed business model. I have to go – now is the time. I have to park. I have to find the store. I’m going to the store. I need to find the article. I have to stand in line. I have to turn everything around. The average time people spend in a Home Depot store is 5.9 minutes – this is the amount of time they actually spend shopping outside of the store. You want to get out as soon as possible. Ecommerce removes a lot of that friction because I don’t have to do half of it. If I search on Amazon, they have it or they do not have it, I buy it or not and that’s fine. So in terms of transaction efficiency, it’s great, but not sticky. A transaction is incoming and outgoing. I have no affinity for the transaction.

Roblox Forever 21 takes time – in a good way. It’s insanely sticky. Its marginal cost is zero. So that’s the most profitable thing you can sell. We emulated the # 1 retail store in the world: Disneyland, which is just a very fancy retail store. You are actually only on a trip about 18% of the time. Most often it is about withdrawing money – when you buy a passport, the mug, the t-shirt, the lunch. Not only will I spend time there, but I will spend all day giving you my money. I will spend the whole week sailing to give you my money. It’s sticky. Stores have been pursuing eventful retail for decades. Barnes & Noble started out by getting comfortable sofas that you can read on. Starbucks has provided you with free Wi-Fi. Chanel offers you champagne and Evian water. It’s all about experience-based marketing. It’s still not that sticky. Disneyland is sticky.

We have taken the Disney model and the experience you would like to keep. We turn a retail brand into an entertainment experience. People come to Roblox because it’s social.

Forever 21 Virtual Clothing
Forever 21 offers its customers discounted coupons on physical clothing similar to the metaverse shopping clothes they have purchased.

Why Gen Z wants to buy pixelsas opposed to physical things?

Hochberg: Why do you want to buy something? Take the average person. They buy a lot of things. They buy t-shirts, sneakers and sweatshirts. Maybe buy suits and ties or whatever they now buy for their daily lives. Why does not everyone dress like Mark Zuckerberg, wearing the same hoodie every day? Most do not. They have an outfit to go out on Saturdays and an outfit to clean the yard. They could wear the same outfit, but they do not. Why? Because as human beings we want to present ourselves in a certain way under certain circumstances.

The # 1 trait of Gen Z is self-expression. How am I? How will I express myself? In the real world, we’re limited. … into the virtual world. You can be who you want to be and you are expected to express yourself as you want. I can wear a dress, I can be a fry I can share. I can be cyberpunk. I can do it differently every day, or with different groups of friends.

Here’s the other thing: the real world is tough. Most people can not visit the Grand Canyon, let alone buy a few Nikes or even Gucci’s. In the virtual world, we can recreate the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal or an NFL game. You can own Nike sneakers, Forever 21 wardrobe, Gucci purse. So the reason the metaverse is so powerful is that it has massive scale, it intervenes in the striving, and it has a world where you socialize, instead of acting. That’s why people spend time there and buy things there – they want to present themselves in their own vision of how they want to be perceived.

Let’s say Roblox went offline, either by choice or out of necessity. Is there a way people who have bought things on it can take them to another platform, or does the virtual clothing go down with the ship?

Hochberg: People think Roblox is a meta-verse. This is not the case. It is a social gaming platform. Facebook is a platform and you go where you build your profile. I can do nothing with it except put it on Instagram and WhatsApp. It’s closed.

Roblox is a 3D version of it where there are games, houses and toys. It’s technically not part of what we call Web 3.0. Web 3.0 is about the consumer’s ability to own the product, not the platform. That’s why when you buy something in decentralized or around sandbox, when you go to other platforms, you own it, and no matter what happens to these worlds, you still own it. Just like when you buy Nike sneakers, if Nike goes bankrupt, you still own the sneakers. It’s Web 3.0. The infrastructure allows you to bring it anywhere, it is on a generally transferable blockchain technical protocol that allows you to own the asset.

How do NFTs get there?

Hochberg: It’s just a digital asset on the blockchain. It’s all it is, whether it’s a work of art, a sneaker, a movie clip, a LeBron James highlight, whatever. Many people now see it as art or digital images or the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Much of it is very speculative, which is why many people lose money. Sometimes what they see is the headline like “Snoop Dogg sells NFTs for $ 44 million”, but most NFTs do not sell.

For marketers and technology leaders, what is the real potential of the meta-verse? To earn money? To increase brand awareness? Both? And how do you get started without spending so much capital that you get fired?

Hochberg: Using metaverse as a sales channel unlocks completely new revenue at no marginal cost. I sell Forever 21 mode worth millions of dollars, which costs me $ 10,000 to create a line, and then each item has zero marginal cost. This item can live forever without defects or supply chain problems. No refund. It can live on Roblox as long as Roblox exists, without any deterioration.

You can not leave a white T-shirt in the store. You do not have the storage space. It will deteriorate, it will get dirty. Virtual objects are cheap to create without marginal cost. You want to be where your consumers are: 200 million people play Roblox every month. People spend millions of hours a month in Forever 21 Shop City, which extends beyond social media.

No matter what you build in your metaverse, it can cost you a few thousand dollars to create an NF T or a virtual model line, or it can cost you half a million dollars. These are not expensive things compared to what people pay for TV commercials, activations on South by Southwest or whatever. The key is that if you get in now, it’s relatively inexpensive. Not only can you generate new revenue, but you can also create new consumer connections.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and activating technologies for TechTarget.

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